Something that I have struggled with, and that is still at the back of my mind, is the time pressure of having a competition horse. It doesn’t exist for everybody, but it seems that it is becoming more and more of a worry for the younger generation.
What I mean by time pressure is the feeling that your horse should be at a certain level by a certain age, which they perhaps haven’t reached yet.
I feel that age classes paint an unrealistic picture of what horses of that age should be doing — I’m just not a huge fan of pushing them at a tender age! (P.S. A lot of horses cope with it perfectly fine, and a lot of riders look after these young superstars, but some horses end up the worse for wear in later life after excelling in age classes.).
But it isn’t just horses who have age classes. When I was a teenager, I felt immense pressure to do under-18 classes, followed by under-21, and now under-25. I felt as though I should be riding at that certain level, even though the young people who were doing such competitions were the top 10% of their age. I was lucky enough to do under-18 classes, being picked for Weston Park’s Junior Championships for the South East, and then I started out in under-21 classes until my horse was injured.
After that, I had to start again from the bottom with a young horse. I am very lucky that my parents supported my dreams and bought me a superstar, but one that was green as grass as we couldn’t afford a horse that was competing at the level I was. Just like that, I was thrown out of my own age classes. I was ‘too old’ to be doing the lower levels that my youngster needed to be doing, but he was too young and inexperienced to be doing ‘my’ age level. I suddenly felt even more time pressure as I got left behind. All of the friends that I had made while doing age group events, championships and so on were suddenly rocketing ahead of me.
I really tried to be happy for my peers when they did well, when they had big wins, moved up a level, had another double clear, but it was tough. I felt humongous guilt for not being a truly supportive friend, for seeming to take my wonderful young horse for granted.
Social media also impacted me negatively at this time due to the majority of people posting the ‘highlight reel’ version of their horsey life. I would have a bad ride with my youngster (not necessarily with him doing anything wrong, he is just big and gangly and is tough to ride sometimes, like any young horse) and then go onto Instagram or Facebook, and see someone jumping around a 1.20m track with their six-year-old. My horse was perfectly capable of this, but he needed to take things slow, and I wanted to do things right with him and allow him all the time that he needed.
To add to the matter, my young horse was broken late and was very green for his age, so was behind horses of his own age, as well as me being behind people of mine! As a result of all of this, I began to heavily doubt my own riding ability and blame myself for not being ‘up to par’, and at the level my horse and I, ‘should be’. It was not a happy time!
Looking back after a few years, I can finally add some reasoning into the mix.
I still struggle with comparing myself to others, especially when it comes to social media, but I know now that people often do not show the low moments on their social feeds. Therefore, I cannot compare my worst days to someone else’s highlights reel. Everybody has bad days!
It does still feel as though my career has ground to a halt, and as though I peaked aged 18. Due to training my young horse, him needing extra time, and a few other hurdles along the way, I haven’t made it back up to the competition level that I was previously at yet, which is incredibly frustrating.
However, I take comfort in knowing that everybody’s journey is different. This part of my own journey may be going slowly while others are at the top of their game, BUT (and this is a very important ‘but’!), everyone has some slow years career-wise and this is yet to come for a lot of people. My career will hopefully speed up later, while others may slow down, or they may even give up.
I am playing the long game — my goals aren’t to be a junior star (although that would’ve been nice), they are to be a senior star, and have a long career at the top of the sport. When you are feeling time pressure, you have to remember to look at the bigger picture.
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The same goes for my horse — I didn’t want him to peak in age classes. I want him to be a senior team horse. He is taking longer than other horses, and that is okay. Every horse is different, some fly through the levels, and some take years. Much in the same way that our competitive careers go at different speeds, horses’ do too. Some may find things too easy as babies, fly up the levels and have problems higher up. Some may have a slow start and then be more consistent later on.
When you look around and it feels as though everybody is succeeding but you, when you feel as though you are being left behind or running out of time, take a step back and look at the big picture. Top athletes in the sport, in all disciplines, can go on to ride at the highest levels well into their 60s. YOU HAVE TIME. Yes, it is true that some people stay at the top of the sport for their whole lives, but this is very rare. The vast majority of people have surges of success. You have to trust the process, keep working hard, and your surge will come again. It will be very up and down, there will be success and failure, but you have to stick with it. Trust the process, your time is coming.
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